Scrolling through Twitter, I happened across a screenshot from a show we’re all probably surprised is still on, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Someone who was presumably home sick from school captured this question: Which of these is a member of the hip-hop group Odd Future, and NOT the lead character of a children’s show? The contestant’s choices were Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, or Tyler, the Creator. Your answer is, of course, Tyler, the Creator. This here, my friends, is irony, dramatic irony.
Tyler, the Creator’s persona has always been tied to reckless youth, which generally errs on the side of bombastically puerile rather than peach fuzz cute. His latest effort, Cherry Bomb, shows that he is maturing at a glacially slow pace. Harsh and macabre depictions of rape, blasé homophobia, and an undying love for all things connected to the darkness of the fallen angel, Lucifer, have waned. However, Tyler’s still a faux rebel, beholden to some grand idea that being obnoxious and rambunctious alone makes you punk. His liberal use of the word faggot in the year 2015 is only one of the many things that grabs your hand and leads you through a hallway with seemingly infinite rooms that display a semi-severe case of arrested development. Yet, one of these rooms leads to a light at the end of the tunnel.
On the album’s opener, “DEATHCAMP,” Tyler proclaims that he’s been more influenced by In Search Of… than Illmatic. That’s good on him, but the same thing that makes so many young, ’90s-aping rappers uninteresting leaves much of Cherry Bomb underwhelming. A portion of the album sounds like N.E.R.D. fan fiction that doesn’t even bother to have thoughtful writing and is more interested in being crass than sexy. It’s 50 Shades of Grey.
Chaos and aggression can be achieved in ways other than knowingly destroying the quality of music.
Much of the mixing and mastering on Cherry Bomb is purposefully a mess. It’s an obvious artistic choice, a wink and nod to the title, but reads more as a choice derived out of vanity rather than necessity. Chaos and aggression can be achieved in ways other than knowingly destroying the quality of music. “Sandwitches” from his debut, Goblin sounds truly frightening, like the bells that usher in The Purge. “Domo23” and “Trashwang” from his sophomore effort Wolf have me brainwashed to incite a riot, kill people, burn shit, and say fuck school. This is Tyler getting exactly what he wants. “PILOT,” from Cherry Bomb, on the other hand, makes me consider going to the Geek Squad to see if my speakers are broken. “BUFFALO” makes me wonder if it sounds better on Tidal.
“FUCKING YOUNG/PERFECT” shows Tyler with a Humbert Humbert (and Tyga) complex, in love with a minor, and admitting that he’s still growing up himself. The latter half of the song provides the Lolita effect, the lush production showing what the story is really about. In the same way that Lolita isn’t wholly about a love affair, but a love affair with the English language, much of Tyler’s music is a love affair with production, with all else else playing a supporting role. His brightest moments, however, arise when he breaks character and gets a little mature.
“48” on Wolf is one of the great overlooked rap songs of this decade, and not just because of the serious subject matter. Tyler’s ability to write from a different perspective has always been evident, but “48” finds Tyler not just coming with vapid shock “humor,” but writing from a fully fleshed out, three dimensional perspective (this, for instance, is what separates Kendrick Lamar from the pack as one of the best wordsmith’s in American music) over simple, yet expertly executed production.
Likewise, the Erykah Badu and Coco O assisted “Treehome95,” also from Wolf, is a relaxed and beautiful jazzy record that sets a precedent for some of the best moments on Cherry Bomb. The Roy Ayers assisted “FIND YOUR WINGS” is one of the most brilliant moments in Tyler’s career. It sounds like Texas bluebonnets blossoming at the start of spring. “2SEATER,” much like the best jazz, plays with conventional song composition and takes you through inspired twists, turns, dips, and dives, spliced with intuitive harmonies and drums that demand you nod your head like one of Roger Ailes’ yes men.
The Roy Ayers assisted “FIND YOUR WINGS” is one of the most brilliant moments in Tyler’s career. It sounds like Texas bluebonnets blossoming at the start of spring.
“SMUCKERS,” the blockbuster track featuring Kanye West and Lil Wayne sees Kanye reach back and rap like he hasn’t since he beat 50 Cent and crystallized his dreams of becoming a pop star. The song doesn’t reach its peak until the chopped up Gabriele Ducros pops up at around the midpoint and Tyler goes bar for bar with Wayne, who provides some of the greatest rapping he’s done in quite some time. it’s a reminder: Even if Michael Jordan loses a step, he still has a buzzer beater in him.
Earl Sweatshirt, the partner in crime who Tyler once traded offensive verses with, just released a fully realized sophomore album in I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. The album is dark and focused. You feel Sweatshirt’s claustrophobia and grief closing in on you. The album is so first-rate because it came at a time when Sweatshirt found himself shedding his child-like skin and stampeding into adulthood.
Tyler’s gauche lyrics and blistering production, if anything, have always been a reflection of his immaturity and adolescence. When Tyler, the Creator’s empty nihilism is put to the side, he’s one of the most gifted young artists out.
What’s really interesting about Tyler, is that he uses his commanding voice and channels his insecurities into being a story of triumph for his cult of followers, to the people who closely identify with being an outcast.
Even though Cherry Bomb, with it’s genre-spanning cast of collaborators and ambitious production choices, might suggest that Tyler is more interested in making music that’s mature, as the boy who wouldn’t grow up he’s instinctively drawn to the magical land of Camp Flog Gnaw. This is his version of Neverland, where his like-minded, whimsically off-color fans revel in a devil may care attitude and follow his lead like the lost boys. Camp Flog Gnaw is the place where yelling faggot for no reason other than not “follow[ing] the rules” and chanelling unfocused rage into needlessly raucous production reign supreme.
What’s really interesting about Tyler, is that he uses his commanding voice and channels his insecurities into being a story of triumph for his cult of followers, to the people who closely identify with being an outcast. Muddled and partly drowned out throughout Cherry Bomb is the positive message he spreads to his young audience that they too, can achieve their dreams. After all, dreams do come true, if only we spread our wings.